In March, New York City confirmed that a second baby in 11 years had died of herpes contracted through an Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual called metzitzah b'peh, where the rabbi or mohel cleans the blood from the baby's penis with his mouth. From 2000 to 2011, at least 11 baby boys in the city were infected with herpes simplex 1 — common in adults, deadly in infants — through the oral-genital ritual; 10 of them were hospitalized, two suffered brain damage, and two died. New York City's health department, in conjunction with all city-owned hospitals and eight private ones, is now distributing a pamphlet, "Before the Bris," explaining the dangers of metzitzah b'peh, especially targeting the ultra Orthodox haredi Jews who still practice it. Is New York stepping on Jews' freedom of religion, or should the city just outright ban an archaic, potentially deadly tradition that most Jews abandoned 150 years ago?
New York needs to quash this nonsense: A warning pamphlet is better than nothing, but "it is not enough," says Danielle Sullivan at Babble. "This practice needs to be outlawed." New York has to stop "hiding behind religion" and think about the health and lives of innocent babies. But above and beyond the herpes risk, there's a larger issue with this creepy ritual: "No grown man should ever be legally allowed to put his mouth on a newborn's penis... ever."
"NYC hospitals warn parents against extreme circumcision ritual"
People are overreacting: Let's look at the numbers here, says Yossi Gestetner at Gestetner Updates: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were about 20,493 metzitzah b'peh circumcisions in New York in a six-year period, working out to 3,415.5 a year, or just under 10 a day. That means about one infant a year, out of 3,416, gets herpes. Extrapolating that math over 11 years, two out of 37,570 New York City babies who undergo this procedure die. To put that in context, "two fathers out of those 37,570 infants had a chance of God-forbid dying in a car accident." With those odds, New York should butt out.
"BEH! Federal gov estimates 10 strictly Orthodox Jewish brisen..."
Regardless, this is another black mark on circumcision: "While often harmless, if the mohel has an easily transmittable disease like herpes, serious problems can occur" from metzitzah b'peh, says Garth Johnston at Gothamist. What we're most curious about is "how this rallies calls to ban circumcision altogether, calls which have been popping up for a while now." Certainly, this is a point for the anti-circumcision "intactivists." But legal or not, tradition dies hard, and "we strongly suspect the age-old practice won't be going anywhere anytime soon."
"Circumcision sucking gave 11 NYC boys herpes..."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- After Ferguson, we don't need another dialogue on race
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The government is getting into the fact-checking business. Be very, very afraid.
- 10 things you need to know today: August 27, 2014
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- Russia's new air force is a mystery
- How Hillary Clinton's 'smart power' turned Libya into a dumpster fire
- In defense of Obama's golfing
Subscribe to the Week